Ronnie's Awesome List presents a guest article by Rabbi Menachem Landa from Chabad Jewish Center of Novato about Chanukah, also known as the Jewish Festival of Lights. The first night of Chanukah is December 24.
1. What does Chanukah celebrate?
Chanukah celebrates 2 miracles: 1) the 2nd century BCE victory of a small, greatly outnumbered and out-armed army of Jews, knows as the “Maccabees,” over the mighty Greek army that occupied the Holy Land. The rebellion was in response to the Greek attempt to force a G-dless lifestyle on the Jewish inhabitants of Israel. 2) The single cruse of pure oil that was found to light the Menorah (candelabra) in the Holy Temple, enough to last 1 day, miraculously burned for 8 nights. (Yay- 8 nights of celebration!) Read the full story & history of Chanukah.
2. What does Chanukah mean?
Chanukah means “dedication.” Following their victory over the Greeks, the Maccabees rededicated the Jewish Holy Temple that stood in Jerusalem, and its altar, which had been desecrated and defiled by pagan invaders. Read the full story of Chanukah.
3. How is Chanukah celebrated?
We celebrate Chanukah by lighting the menorah (a 9-branched candelabra) on each of the 8 nights of Chanukah. One the first night, we kindle one light plus the shamash (attendant candle), on the second night, we kindle two and so on. It is traditional to eat foods fried in oil on Chanukah (think latkes, donuts….yum. More about that next.) It is customary to give money gifts to children, increase in our acts of charity, and to play dreidel games. (Seriously, this is one my favorite and coolest holidays) Click here for a Chanukah DIY.
4. What are some of the traditional Chanukah foods?
Because of the central role that oil played in the Chanukah miracle, it is customary to serve foods fried in oil. The traditional foods vary according to country of origin but in general: latkes (fried potato pancakes), sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts), and dairy foods. (Yes, pretty fattening. Gym memberships go way up after this holiday) Check out delicious Chanukah recipes here. (My wife Adina’s famous recipes can be discovered here).
5. What is a dreidel?
Dreidel is a Yiddish word which means to turn, or spin. It is known as sevivon in Hebrew . The dreidel is a specially-designed spinning top used for Chanukah games. There is a Hebrew letter embossed on each of the dreidel’s 4 sides. These 4 letters form the acronym of the phrase “Nes gadol haya sham,” “A great miracle happened there” – a reference to the Chanukah miracle that happened in the Land of Israel. (This also happens to be a super fun “gambling” game for children and adults alike!) Read up on the dreidel and its history.
And so …what is Chanukah’s message for a regular person living in the 21st century? It’s all about light….and light prevailing over darkness. Know that just as one small flame in a dark room can light up the whole room, your one kind act, one kind smile, one kind gesture can make unbelievable waves of impact in this world. And here’s my favorite part. A flame is endless! One flame can light another flame, without diminishing its own light, to no end! We can spread goodness and kindness without end!